Monday, November 30, 2015

Steelers' defense fades in big moments in Seattle loss

Jeremy Fowler, ESPN Senior NFL Writer
November 29, 2015
Thomas Rawls gets just enough yards to earn a first down, allowing Seattle to run out of the block against Pittsburgh. (Dean Rutz/The Seattle Times)
Thomas Rawls gets just enough yards to earn a first down, allowing Seattle to run out of the block against Pittsburgh. The Pittsburgh Steelers played the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field in Seattle Sunday,... (Dean Rutz/The Seattle Times)
SEATTLE -- The image of Doug Baldwin streaking untouched down the sideline shouldn’t have been a shocker.
The Seattle Seahawks' offense had been dealing all game.
Asking the Pittsburgh Steelers' defense to get a stop in the final minutes was simply too much Sunday, as Russell Wilson’s five touchdowns powered the Seahawks past the Steelers 39-30.
"It shouldn't sit well with any of us," Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward said. "Five touchdowns and 100 yards rushing is unacceptable."
By taking a short field goal with three minutes left and down 32-30, the Steelers basically said, we think our defense is good enough to get the ball back despite Wilson's big day. They could have gone for the fourth-down attempt to try to go ahead. The Steelers had all three timeouts. Coach Mike Tomlin called the decision a "calculated risk."
But Wilson got the ball and converted another long third down, with the Steelers’ secondary taking a bad angle on Baldwin’s over-the-middle catch and bolt toward the sideline with 2 minutes, 1 second left.
The reality is this: Wilson is the third quarterback in 11 games to throw for at least four touchdowns on the Steelers. That’s a chin check for the final five games.
"They ran a good concept to beat the coverage we were in," said cornerback Antwon Blake, who was in coverage on the play. "The bottom line is we have to make an incomplete pass or make a tackle on that."
Three turnovers overshadowed an otherwise brilliant performance from the offense and Ben Roethlisberger, who threw for 456 yards before jogging to the locker room in the final minutes for an NFL concussion test.
The Seahawks converted 19 points off Steelers turnovers. That’s the game.
What it means: The picture is becoming clear for the Steelers -- when they don’t turn the ball over, they are pretty good. In losses to Cincinnati and Seattle, the Steelers at times looked like the better team, but threw six interceptions. It's nearly impossible to win that way. Roethlisberger had a weird day because he was threw for nearly 500 yards, but at times he was begging the Seahawks to intercept him. Clean up the turnovers and the Steelers can get rolling in the final five games.
What were they thinking? The fake field goal attempt that resulted in a 54-yard interception and a Seahawks score in the first half was brutal. Take the 44-yard field goal. Instead, the Seahawks created a 10-point swing. That play loomed large in a tight game. It took forever to develop as Landry Jones shifted to the punt-receive area. The Seahawks were not fooled in the slightest. "I take responsibility for that play's failure," Tomlin said of the decision. He declined specifics of what prompted the move.
One reason to get excited: Markus Wheaton was a nonfactor for the first 10 games, but exploded for nine catches and 201 yards. Wheaton had been waiting to emerge as the Steelers’ primary slot receiver. With the Seahawks paying extra attention to Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant, Roethlisberger smartly worked the middle of the field and Wheaton capitalized. "Better chemistry," Wheaton said of what prompted the breakout, referring to finding a rhythm with Roethlisberger.
One reason for concern: Tight ends are still an issue for the Steelers, who made a point to minimize Jimmy Graham and still gave up 75 yards through three quarters, including two third-and-long conversions on a first-half scoring drive. Graham, who left the game in the fourth quarter with a knee injury, didn’t score but helped open passing lanes for Wilson.
Fantasy watch: Don’t bet against Bryant scoring weekly. He has a knack for the end zone. With an 11-yard rushing score Sunday, that’s 14 touchdowns in 16 career games. Roetlhlisberger targeted Bryant nine times through the first three quarters. Only Antonio Brown (10) had more.
Ouch: Tight end Heath Miller left the game in the first half with a rib injury. He caught five passes for 45 yards. Linebacker Ryan Shazier suffered a concussion and left the game in the second quarter.
Raining 2s: The Steelers are 6-for-9 on two-point conversions after a successful attempt in the first half, tying the 1994 Miami Dolphins for the most conversions in an NFL season.

On his birthday, Russell Wilson gives Seattle Seahawks perhaps his greatest game to beat Pittsburgh Steelers

Quarterback Russell Wilson was sick on Sunday, his 27th birthday, yet his near-perfect performance lifted the Seattle Seahawks over the Pittsburgh Steelers, 39-30.
November 29, 2015

Russell Wilson throws a pass for Doug Baldwin for an 80-yard touchdown with 2:01 to play that would win the game for the Seahawks over Pittsburgh. (Dean Rutz/The Seattle Times)
Russell Wilson throws a pass for Doug Baldwin for an 80-yard touchdown with 2:01 to play that would win the game for the Seahawks over Pittsburgh. (Dean Rutz/The Seattle Times)

November 29, 1988, was the day Russell Wilson came into this world. November 29, 2015, was the day Russell Wilson was out of this world.

On his 27th birthday, the Seahawks’ quarterback decided that great wasn’t good enough — that only spectacular would do. Didn’t he hear? He was supposed to be receiving the gifts Sunday, not giving them.

Instead, Wilson handed out 345 yards on 21-of-30 passing. He added a career-high five touchdown throws and late-game heroics, too. In a 39-30 win over Pittsburgh, Wilson bestowed 12s with what was likely his best regular-season game.

“Unbelievable,” Seattle tight end Luke Willson said of his QB. “It was just fun to be a part of.”

“Fun” probably wouldn’t have been the word to describe how Russell felt midgame, though. Experiencing flu-like systems, Wilson was up at 5:30 a.m. and required three IVs to get him through the day.

He dragged through his postgame news conference until someone asked if he ever considered sitting. Wilson beamed: “I’m always going to play.”

It’s true. Wilson has never missed a start in his 59-game career. And you could argue that the Hawks — playoffs aside — never needed him more than they did Sunday.

Entering the game at 5-5, Seattle’s postseason hopes would have been in hospice with a loss. Its quarterback, however, was not going to let that happen.

Wilson’s first major contribution came on third-and-goal from the 16 in the opening quarter. One play earlier, offensive lineman J.R. Sweezy cost the Seahawks 15 yards when he jumped onto the pile after the play was dead.

Six points had gone from probable to doubtful — then Wilson hit Doug Baldwin on a seam route for a Seattle touchdown.

Baldwin said that Wilson’s focus was sharper than usual before Sunday’s game. He saw something in his eyes — an aura that had gone from dogged to downright ruthless.

Maybe Wilson was seeking vindication from a dismal performance vs. the Cardinals two weeks earlier, or maybe he just knew his team’s season depended on him. Whatever it was, the big plays just kept coming.

Third-and-10 from Seattle’s 15? Wilson to Jimmy Graham for 18 yards. Third-and-10 from Seattle’s 33? Wilson to Graham for another 18. Third-and-16 from Seattle’s 45? Wilson with a 22-yard pass to Jermaine Kearse, who caught a 12-yard touchdown toss two plays later.

Before Sunday, the Seahawks’ offense was a ground-first attack meant to post just enough points for the defense to protect. But against the Steelers, it was a high-flyin’, gunslingin’ summer-blockbuster-like display.

Look at this way: Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger threw for 456 yards — the most an individual has ever amassed against Seattle. And you know what? He was by far the second-best quarterback of the day.

Unlike Big Ben, Wilson didn’t throw any interceptions. He also had 11.5 yards per attempt compared to Roethlisberger’s 8.3. But the real distinction came in that fourth quarter Sunday.

You want to know what clutch looks like? It’s 5 feet 11 and wears No. 3.

In the final 15 minutes, Wilson was 8 for 10 with 179 yards and two touchdown passes. He completed his final eight throws, including an 80-yard TD to Baldwin on third-and-10 to make it 39-30.

CenturyLink Field went bonkers, and the signal caller was the main reason why.

Said left tackle Russell Okung: “Today the magic number was 3.”

As usual, Wilson downplayed his performance after the game. He gave all the credit to his teammates, treated the victory like any other win and rattled off several of the stock answers we’ve come to expect from him.

But you have to think this one meant a little more. You have to think, whether it was Sunday or any previous birthday, he pictured something like this when blowing out the candles.

“I love the game,” Wilson said. “When you love the game, you do anything to find a way.”

Wilson found a way Sunday, and the Seahawks might have found their way, too. This was their first win over a team with a winning record, and at 6-5, they would make the playoffs if the postseason started today.

Gotta give Wilson a large share of the credit.

He had IV’s in his veins Sunday — and has winning in his blood.

Matt Calkins: 206-464-3185 or On Twitter@Matt_Calkins

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Seattle Seahawks’ Legion of Boom to be tested by Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
November 27, 2015

Seahawks safety Earl Thomas, left, and Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor gang up to stop 49ers running back Shaun Draughn in the first quarter at CenturyLink Field on Nov. (Dean Rutz/The Seattle Times)
Seahawks safety Earl Thomas, left, and Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor gang up to stop 49ers running back Shaun Draughn in the first quarter at CenturyLink Field on Nov. 22, 2015. (Dean Rutz/The Seattle Times)

It’s the time of the season when NFL statistics begin to depict a more accurate picture.

And the one they paint of the long-feared Legion of Boom secondary when the Seahawks win and lose could hardly be more stark.

In the Seahawks’ five losses, four coming against quarterbacks who this year would be considered among the best in the NFL — Arizona’s Carson Palmer, Carolina’s Cam Newton, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton — the Legion of Boom has appeared more vulnerable than ever.

In games against those four and in a loss at St. Louis against the since-benched Nick Foles, the Seahawks allowed opponents to complete 112 of 188 passes (60 percent) for 1,509 yards, nine touchdowns and four interceptions.

And maybe most telling, opponents in those games averaged 8.0 yards per attempt, which would rank 28th in the NFL.

Meanwhile, in the Seahawks’ five wins — three of which came against backup quarterbacks (San Francisco’s Blaine Gabbert, Chicago’s Jimmy Clausen and Dallas’ Matt Cassel) and another against a quarterback who has since been benched (San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick) — the Seahawks have looked like themselves.

In those games, and in a victory over Detroit and Matthew Stafford, the Seahawks have allowed 91 completions in 136 attempts (67 percent) for 751 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions, and a yards-per-attempt average of just 5.5.

Coming to CenturyLink Field on Sunday is another quarterback whose is considered among the NFL’s best — the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger.

“He can see the game as well as anybody that’s played,’’ Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Friday.

Roethlisberger also has one of the better receiving corps in the NFL, led by Antonio Brown, who is second in the league in receptions (79) and yards (1,141) and who this week was called “the best route runner on the planet’’ by

CenturyLink Field, of course, was where opponents’ gaudy passing stats came to die the previous few years.

But the success of several quarterbacks this season has led to the inevitable rumblings of whether the Legion of Boom has lost some of its oomph or if each game was just its own aberration (such as Kam Chancellor not playing in the losses to the Rams and Packers).

It also leads to the question of whether the Legion of Boom needs a big performance in a game such as this to reestablish its credentials.

Chancellor said such big-picture questions aren’t on the minds of anyone in the Seahawks locker room.

“We are going out there to move forward and not thinking about the past right now,’’ Chancellor said. “We’ve got Pittsburgh, and we’re going to do what we do, stay fundamentally sound, and hope to have a better game this game.’’

Still, Carroll sounded his own minor alarm last week when he benched Cary Williams late in the third quarter of a 29-13 victory over the 49ers, replacing him at right cornerback with DeShawn Shead.

Seahawks coaches were vague this week about who will start now, but the nod could go to Shead, who has started just two games — one at safety and the other as a nickelback.

He could find himself tasked with stopping Brown or Martavis Bryant, a second-year player averaging 20 yards per reception.

The Seahawks might also decide to have Richard Sherman shadow Brown, something they have done increasingly this season, including last week when, for the second time against the 49ers, he exclusively covered Torrey Smith.

Pittsburgh’s passing attack has similarities to Arizona’s. The Cardinals, with Palmer at the helm, threw for 334 yards against the Seahawks two weeks ago, the most they had allowed in a regular-season game since Tom Brady threw for 388 in 2012 (a Seahawks win at CenturyLink Field).

Defensive coordinator Kris Richard said the Seahawks’ solution to improve their pass defense vs. the Steelers is simple.

“Stay on top,’’ Richard said, meaning don’t let a receiver get behind a defender. “That’s what we need to do much better.”

The Seahawks also will have some reinforcements in the secondary.

Jeremy Lane is expected to play for the first time since suffering a torn knee ligament and broken wrist in the Super Bowl.

Lane said Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh receivers play with a lot of confidence, and he expects the Seahawks to match that on Sunday.

“I just feel like we match up a little bit different,’’ Lane said.

“We are more physical than most guys they play. That’s what we bring to this team, being physical on defense. So they haven’t really seen that. So we are going to bring it to them.’’

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or On Twitter@bcondotta.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Steelers veteran linebacker Harrison focused on stretch run

Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015, 5:42 p.m.

Even at 37, linebacker James Harrison is confident he'll have enough stamina to help the Steelers down the stretch.
Harrison began the season knowing linebackers coach Joey Porter wanted to limit his snaps. But the 13-year veteran has been a fixture in the rotation, splitting duty with third-year right outside linebacker Jarvis Jones.
“I don't think there was ever a snap count,” Harrison said this week. “It's something that was said, and people just ran with it.”
Porter hasn't calculated Harrison's snaps and seems willing to have the 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year's playing time be determined by his productivity, not the number of snaps played.
So far, Harrison has had unspectacular numbers. He has two sacks, eight quarterback pressures and one forced fumble while playing 51.2 percent of the team's defensive snaps, fourth best among linebackers.
“James Harrison is going to play the role we asked him to play,” Porter said. “I am not counting every snap, saying he's at this number and he can't go back in. (Harrison) is going to be in there when he has to.
“I still keep an eye on him to make sure I don't overwork him. At the same time, he's been playing when we need him to play, and he's played a good number of snaps.”
Harrison, who signed a two-year, $2.75 million deal in March, is reluctant to accept a reduced role in the thick of the AFC playoff race. He insists that a sore knee that forced him to sit against Cleveland on Nov. 15 won't sideline him when the Steelers (6-4) play at two-time defending NFC champion Seattle on Sunday.
Harrison said it's a sprint to finish. So he is prepared to floor it on every play in every game, including matchups against four playoff contenders: Seattle, Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Denver.
“I don't care who you are or how old you are, if you're going 100 miles per hour every play, you're bound to get tired,” said Harrison, who hasn't played a complete season since 2010. “It's just part of the game, but as you get older, fatigue comes faster. But rotating the linebackers is something that keeps all of us fresh.”
Porter hopes Harrison is fresh for a postseason run. With an improving Jones and the versatile Arthur Moats, depth at outside linebacker has saved Harrison's legs.
“I'm comfortable wherever they want me to play,” Harrison said.
He concedes there are a few changes when it comes to assignments, but it's nothing he hasn't seen.
More important, Harrison is impressed with how first-year defensive coordinator Keith Butler has demanded a more aggressive, physical style for a defense ranked fifth in scoring.
“The defense is all right, but it could be better,” Harrison said. “We can be better against the run and the pass. We can be better all around.
“Everyone has gotten an opportunity to get game experience because of the way (Butler) rotates players.”
Everyone in the Steelers locker room, it seems, is confident Harrison will add a spark down the stretch.
“We don't know what plays he's going to make,” cornerback William Gay said. “What we do know is we have the world's strongest man — mentally and physically — on our team. I'll line him up with anybody. Win, lose or draw, I want No. 92 on the field.”
Defensive end Cameron Heyward said the stat sheet doesn't reflect Harrison's value to a defense that is back among the league's elite.
“James is a true Steeler, and he makes sure we all want to hold up our end of the deal,” Heyward said. “It's a privilege to play with a guy like that. When we're out there, he's talking about assignment football and about playing all out.”
Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib.

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Friday, November 27, 2015

Steelers wideouts face challenge against Legion of Boom

By John Perrotto
November 26, 2015
Sep 3, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receivers Antonio Brown (84) and Martavis Bryant (middle) and Markus Wheaton (11) talk on the field before playing the Carolina Panthers at Heinz Field. Carolina won 23-6. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The Pittsburgh Steelers have arguably the best wide receiver tandem in the NFL.
Antonio Brown's 79 receptions and 1,141 receiving yards rank second in the league to only the Atlanta FalconsJulio Jones, who has 89 catches for 1,189 yards. Brown also has a league-leading 1,276 all-purpose yards.
Martavis Bryant is second in the NFL in yards per reception with a 20.0 average, trailing only the San Francisco 49ersTorrey Smith (21.2). Bryant's 88-yard reception against the Arizona Cardinals is the longest in the league this season.
On Sunday, the Steelers visit Seattle and Brown and Bryant will be matched up against the Seahawks' celebrated Legion of Boom secondary. Brown and Bryant will try to keep their impressive seasons going against cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Cary Williams and safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor.
The Seahawks are second in the league with 207.2 yards passing allowed a game and seventh with an average of 6.4 yards per pass.
Brown, though, is downplaying the likelihood of going head-to-head against Sherman for much of the game.
''Individual matchups really mean nothing,'' Brown said. ''I know each week I'm going to get the other team's best guy. It's all about me being in good position and being my best. Obviously, he's a great cornerback. It should be a great matchup.
''That's the NFL. Guys want to compete. They want to compete against the best guys. Richard Sherman is one of the top guys at the corner position. I'm one of the top guys at the receiver position. Those are the kind of matchups you want.''
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was a defensive backs coach and defensive coordinator before taking over in Pittsburgh in 2007. So he can appreciate Sherman's talent and how difficult of a matchup he can be for even a talented receiver like Brown.
''Richard Sherman is quite frankly one of the best in the business,'' Tomlin said. ''He is good on the line of scrimmage. He is long. He is combative.
''But I think that's just a portion of his game. I've been really impressed as I have studied him in preparation for this game for his above the neck game, the things that he sees and understands about route combinations and the things he understands about formations and splits. All of that is very evident in his production and comes out in his play.''
The good news for the Steelers is that starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is healthy again after contending with knee and foot injuries.
Brown has been nearly unstoppable in the six games in which Roethlisberger has played with 62 catches for 898 yards and all five of his touchdowns. In the four games without Roethlisberger, Brown has 17 receptions for 225 yards.
Bryant, meanwhile, is having a strong second season despite sitting out the first five games because of an NFL-imposed drug suspension and a knee injury. He has 22 catches for 440 yards and five touchdowns in five games.
The Steelers expect to see more production from Bryant in the season's homestretch.
''Condition-wise I think he's getting back,'' wide receivers coach Richard Mann said. ''As far as the offense is concerned, he's been on a little roller coaster but he's made a lot of big plays. He's had plays he should have made that he didn't.
''These last six games, those plays he didn't make, I expect him to make them every time. He's capable of doing it. We all know it, including him.''
Bryant is looking forward to facing the Legion of Boom.
''It should be a good matchup, a good ballgame,'' Bryant said. ''To be the best, you've got to beat the best and their defensive backs are the best.''
NOTES: LB Ryan Shazier (knee) and CB Brandon Boykin (ankle) did not practice Thursday. . The Steelers are 1-6 at Seattle, the lone win coming in 1984 when the Seahawks played their home games at the Kingdome.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Malkin scores in OT to lift Penguins over Blues 4-3

Associated Press
November 25, 2015
Pittsburgh Penguins' Evgeni Malkin (71) celebrates his game-winning goal in overtime of an NHL hockey game against the St. Louis Blues in Pittsburgh Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015. The Penguins won 4-3. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Pittsburgh Penguins' Evgeni Malkin (71) celebrates his game-winning goal in overtime of an NHL hockey game against the St. Louis Blues in Pittsburgh Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015. The Penguins won 4-3. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- All is right with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Sidney Crosby.
Crosby broke out with two goals and Evgeni Malkin scored 1:03 into overtime to lift the Penguins over the St. Louis Blues 4-3 just hours after a report surfaced that there was a rift between the Penguins' captain and team owner Mario Lemieux.
''I honestly don't even know what to say to that,'' Crosby said. ''If people are going to make stuff up, it's totally out of my control. I feel stupid even commenting on it. That's ridiculous.''
Lemieux publicly denied the claim, saying it was ''silly'' and ''absolutely not true'' that he was feuding with Crosby. The current Penguins star lived with Lemieux early in his career.
Crosby appears to be breaking out of an early-season slump at the right time. The two-time NHL MVP went scoreless in eight of his first nine games but now has a three-game points streak with 10 points in his last 12.
''I don't know if it's a coincidence that something like that comes up when you're struggling and the points aren't coming,'' Crosby said. ''In my experience, that's usually the case.''
Crosby scored his fourth and fifth of the season and now has a goal against every NHL team - he had five assists in 10 career meetings against St. Louis. It was also the first time Crosby scored two regular-season goals since Feb. 12 against Ottawa, a span of 47 games.
Malkin scored after taking a lead pass from Phil Kessel. He goaltender Jake Allen on the backhand for his eighth of the season and league-leading fifth game-winner.
Ben Lovejoy also scored to help the Penguins finish 3-1 during a four-game homestand after dropping three of their previous four.
Marc-Andre Fleury made 29 saves for his 11th win of the season.
Alex Pietrangelo tied the game 3-3 with 5:41 left in the third period for the Blues. St. Louis also got goals from Paul Stastny and Robby Fabbri.
Stastny scored his second of the season in his second game back after missing the previous 16 with a broken foot. He has points in five of seven games played this season.
Fabbri scored his fourth and Pietrangelo his second. The Blues had won five of their previous seven against the Penguins. They've now dropped five of their last eight overall, allowing 26 goals during that span. Allen stopped 30 shots.
''We've got too much slowness in our game,'' Blues' coach Ken Hitchcock said. ''From where we were before, we were really on attack mode and we're way too much on our heels now.''
The Blues twice rallied from one-goal deficits in the third period.
Fabbri initially tied the game just 1:12 into the third. Pietrangelo capitalized on a Penguins' turnover and squeezed a shot underneath Fleury's arm to force overtime after Lovejoy briefly put Pittsburgh ahead. Five of the last eight meetings between the two teams needed overtime.
''It's not easy playing comeback hockey,'' Pietrangelo said. ''Good character shown coming back, but we have to find a way to get up on teams early and bury them.''
Crosby's second career goal against St. Louis, a re-direction from the slot, came on the power play, giving Pittsburgh the lead midway through the second period.
''I should have had more,'' Crosby said. ''It was a good game and I was able to get lots of opportunities.''
NOTES: The Penguins snapped a three-game losing streak against St. Louis in Pittsburgh, beating the Blues for the first time at home since October 2009. ... The Penguins opened the season with three power-play goals in 10 games but have now scored 10 in the past 12. ... Pittsburgh is 10-0 when leading after two periods and 10-3 in one-goal games. ... Blues D Kevin Shattenkirk has a seven-game points streak. ... Penguins' D Olli Maatta skated on his own Tuesday for the first time since suffering an upper-body injury Nov. 17 against Minnesota. He is expected to miss about a month. ... Ryan Reaves replaced Scottie Upshall in the Blues lineup, returning to action after missing three games. ... Blues D Robert Bortuzzo played his first game in Pittsburgh since the Penguins traded him to St. Louis in March for D Ian Cole. .. The Penguins play five of their next six on the road beginning Friday at Columbus. St. Louis will host Columbus on Saturday.